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Home » Clarion » 2019 » February 2019 » Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

Strike yes, Nixon no

James Gray Pope’s op-ed in the September 2018 issue (“Labor’s right to strike is essential”) misunderstood or misinterpreted the comments I made regarding the right of workers to strike.

It conveyed that I do not support the right of public sector workers to strike. False. I publicly support the right to strike in the public sector in New York or anywhere else. The comments I made in the article were made specifically about Cynthia Nixon’s political position regarding strikes, not about the right to strike itself. I was skeptical about her being supportive of public sector unions striking. I believed, and still do believe, that her position on strikes by public sector workers was born out of political desperation, simply a tactic to try to win trade union support and not at all truly felt. It’s also important to understand that prior to taking her “right to strike” position, she publicly called for transit worker concessions to help fix the subway crisis.

And then there’s my quote, “As soon as her hipster Williamsburg supporters can’t take public transit to non-union Wegmans to buy their kale chips, she will call in the National Guard and the Pinkertons.”

The truth is that a wedge was long ago driven between the de Blasio/Nixons of the world and organized labor, but it wasn’t done by me or blue-collar workers. My comment was definitely about the social, cultural and political divide that clearly exists between them and organized labor, particularly blue-collar trade unionists.

Wegmans is an anti-union employer, yet de Blasio saw them as the best option to open up in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He had every opportunity to bring a UFCW-contract supermarket into the Navy Yard, but deliberately chose Wegmans. It was more important for de Blasio to advance his brand of lifestyle progressivism than to support organized labor and bring more good trade union jobs to Brooklyn. This wedge, this divide, is very real and blue-collar New York feels it every day.

My decision not to trust or support Cynthia Nixon should not have led to a conclusion that I don’t believe in the weapon of a strike or the right to strike. In fact, the Janus ruling has completely destroyed the underpinnings of the Taylor Law and should absolutely be revisited in light of the loss of agency shop fees. The law is more unjust then ever and needs to be abolished.

John Samuelsen
President, Transport Workers Union

James Pope responds: I have no doubt that John Samuelsen supports the right to strike in his heart of hearts. My point was that the strike ban has put him in a position where he felt that he had to provide cover for a Wall Street darling like Andrew Cuomo even to the point of punishing his opponent for taking a pro-worker position. Nixon did a rare thing for a politician these days: she publicly supported the right to strike, giving labor an opportunity to build support on the issue.

Editor’s note: The PSC has passed a resolution calling for the legal right to strike for New York’s public-sector workers.

Backing single-payer

The New York Health Act (NYHA) would guarantee comprehensive, lower-cost care to all New York residents at huge savings to the state. It is a promising moment for New York State single-payer health care.

But NYHA won’t become law without the support of organized labor. Both public- and private-sector unions have concerns about protecting existing benefits, shielding members from increased costs, sharing in any savings, preserving union benefit funds and covering members living out of state. The bill’s sponsors seem willing to accommodate. They, together with PSC’s Social Safety Net Working Group member Len Rodberg, who, from start to finish, has played a central role in crafting the legislation, have drafted specific proposals in response to labor’s concerns. Still, many union leaders in the state seem more comfortable with the devil they know than the one they don’t.

And given the transactional nature of union-government relations, labor’s advocacy for single-payer becomes even more fraught: What’s the bread-and-butter risk of offending the governor or alienating skeptical allies? In our own case, CUNY funding and the PSC contract depend on our place in the state budget, which depends on the governor, the legislature and support from other unions.

The PSC backs the bill as “a work in progress.” Social Safety Net Working Group testimony (at the City Council hearing on a resolution of support) indicated union endorsement in principle but emphasized the concerns that the PSC shares with other unions.

Fine. But what about the needs of the uncovered, the unemployed, the unorganized, the undocumented, the underpaid? What about the inadequacies and escalating costs of even the best employer plans? And what about our students, their families, their communities?

We need to press for this piece of legislation, legislation clearly in the best interests of working-class New York. We need to fight for it just as hard as we fight to hold on to our own hard-earned gains. As a social justice union, what responsibility do we bear for pushing ourselves, and our sister unions, beyond a members-only consciousness toward meaningful class solidarity?

Jim Perlstein
Borough of Manhattan Community College

Mic check!

A steadily deteriorating hearing loss, resulting mostly from combat in Vietnam and old age, nearly succeeded in forcing me out of the classroom. Our rooms at Baruch have appalling acoustics and I’m often unable to understand questions and engage in dialogue.

Audiologists at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center provide me with expert support and the most current hearing aid technology, but until recently, nothing stanched the problem. I know that many of my older colleagues struggle with similar issues. This past year, however, I came up with a novel solution, and Baruch’s audiovisual techs have supplied the equipment to make it work. My classroom hearing problems have largely been resolved, and I want to pass this tip on to all who think hearing loss means their teaching days may soon be over.

For the last two semesters I’ve been using a relatively simple system in my classroom that consistently works well for me. I’ve got a shotgun microphone mounted on a tripod, hooked to a small, portable amplifier (not much larger than a transistor radio). I plug an off-the-shelf wireless headphone transmitter into the amp. With the wireless headphones over my ears and hearing aids I can move freely around the room. When a student speaks, I point the shotgun mic in their direction; I can pivot the mic freely in all directions and quickly pick up the voice of any student in the room.

I get clear, loud amplification and have little trouble hearing my students’ questions and comments. I teach in a room designed for 40-plus students and can hear students sitting in the rear of the room. I suspect that with the volume up this would work well even in rooms holding up to a hundred or so students. Using it takes a little practice, of course, but I found the whole process nearly seamless by the second semester.

The Americans With Disabilities Act requires workplaces to accommodate hearing loss, which means that the university is obligated to provide us this equipment. Baruch’s techs have been incredibly helpful in setting it up for me and helping me learn how to make the best use of it. I will gladly provide detailed specifications to anyone who asks.

Glenn Petersen
Baruch College

Editor’s note: We’re very glad to hear about this. PSC members with hearing issues can also take advantage of the Welfare Fund’s hearing-aid benefit.

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